Cricket: Wasim and Waqar prepare to weave their magic: Pitch conditions should suit Pakistan's balanced bowling attack in the first Test of an eagerly anticipated series against the West Indies

FINALLY persuaded to proceed with their West Indies tour, Pakistan's embattled, and still embittered, cricketers will find welcome solace in the support and the conditions likely to greet them in the first Test starting here today.

So disturbed by the drugs charges against the captain, Wasim Akram, the vice-captain, Waqar Younis, and two other players in Grenada last weekend and urged on by intemperate reaction from home, the Pakistanis were on the verge of calling off the series.

Only when Stephen Camacho, the executive secretary of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, emphasised the likely repercussions at a meeting with the Pakistani manager, Khalid Mahmood, on Wednesday morning did they climb down.

There is plenty of sympathy for their plight here among the large Muslim, East Indian population whose presence among the expected 20,000 crowd will lift their spirits.

They should also be encouraged by the pitch at Queen's Park Oval. Composed of a clay-like soil imported from the south of the island, it lacks pace and bounce and progressively responds to spin. It is a combination more suited to Pakistan than the West Indies who both rely heavily on the strength of their bowling attacks.

While the Pakistani strike bowlers, the left-arm Wasim, and Waqar, adhere to the fast, full-length swing bowling demanded by such conditions, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Courtney Walsh, the tall West Indians, depend mainly on lift and movement off the seam. While the Pakistanis balance their speed with the rarity of the high class leg-spin of Mushtaq Ahmed, the West Indies follow their established practice of limiting their variety to Carl Hooper, a batsman whose uncomplicated off- spin has gained him only 25 Test wickets at a cost of more than 67 runs apiece.

As always the captain winning the toss is expected to bat. Especially with the teams comprised as they are, this will allow the fast bowlers to utilise the early moisture that quickly evaporates in the tropical heat. It would also mean being able to bat on the second day when the pitch is at its truest. The second of the two one-day internationals, played here last month, indicated just how good it can be, yielding 520 runs, 53 boundaries and only seven wickets off 88.1 overs. But such perfection does not last.

Joey Carew, the former West Indies opening batsman who now oversees pitch preparation at Queen's Park Oval, believes Richie Richardson, the West Indies captain, must weigh his options carefully before bowling first. That would mean batting last on a wearing pitch against Mushtaq.

'It's been very hot and very dry these past few weeks, the hottest it's been in 10 years,' he said. 'The pitch could be quite dusty over the last couple of days and could spin more than usual.'

The Pakistanis staged a remarkable revival in the one-day series, coming back from defeat in the first two matches that lengthened their losing sequence against the West Indies to nine, to win the next two and then force an unforgettable last-ball tie in the last. It was the perfect aperitif to the main course to follow. If the unexpected episode in Grenada has dulled the appetite somewhat, the prospects remain intriguing.

Apart from the fact that the attacks are spearheaded by the finest fast bowlers of the day, the teams also parade two of the most exciting young batting talents, the left-handed Brian Lara, a Trinidadian whose presence alone guarantees a sizeable crowd, and Inzamam-ul-Haq, of Pakistan.

There are also two of Test cricket's most durable characters to stabilise inconsistent batting orders - Desmond Haynes, the West Indies opener, who is playing in his 109th Test, and Javed Miandad, the Pakistani playing his 119th on the ground where he scored a century on his previous Test appearance in 1988.

The West Indies have a remarkable record to defend. They have not lost a home series since 1973, and nowhere since 1980. No one has threatened them more in that time than Pakistan who were beaten 2-1 here in 1977 and 1-0 in Pakistan in 1980 before drawing the subsequent three series in 1986, 1988 and 1990.

Drugs charges and the Grenada police notwithstanding, the portents are for a similarly even contest this time.

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